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Cut the chitchat

| Thursday, September 29, 2016

“What did you do last weekend?”

“Did you guys go out last night?”

“What’s your dorm/major/hometown?”

Questions like these are plenty abundant around campus. They are often used to ease tension at parties where the music may not be quite loud enough, to catch up with that random person you chose to sit next to on the first day of class and are now stuck with for the rest of the semester or to minimize the awkwardness of a silent elevator ride in the dorms. These seemingly harmless questions start to be problematic, however, when they are relied upon as main conversation staples amongst those who consider themselves close friends. There is nothing wrong with catching up with a friend about a weekend’s debauchery, but small talk is quickly turning into an escape route from deeper, more meaningful conversations. Small talk prevails because of the need to find a socially acceptable topic to discuss, but without asking more difficult questions about things like life, religion or morality, is it possible to truly connect with others and form strong bonds?

Many articles have been written imploring people to put an end to small talk, citing many reasons that culminate to the same basic idea: Small talk kills any hope of getting to really know someone else. In one particular piece from Wired, the author spoke of a dinner party she held that had only one rule: no small talk allowed. The party started off a little awkward, with guests unsure of what exactly qualified as small talk, afraid to call others out for resorting to trivial discussions. As questions ranging from matters such as assisted suicide and race relations to sexuality began to pop up in conversations, however, a difference could be seen. Guests were more animated, standing more intimately with one another, earnestly speaking their minds. Rather than decreasing their possible conversations, this rule gave people the freedom to talk about the things they really wanted to talk about.

In today’s divisive society, it is easy to think that it is best to steer clear of controversial subject matter in conversation, particularly if you want to maintain a friendship with someone who might disagree with you. Based on my personal experiences, however, I would argue that it is because of these conversations, rather than despite them, that friendship can blossom. If anyone were to look at my ideological profile, compared to that of one of my closest friends’, Lauren, they would see a recipe for disaster. Lauren identifies as an atheist, a socialist and an all-around “flaming liberal”.  You would not think that I, a Catholic, moderately conservative individual, would find much common ground with her. It was during moments of intense debate, sometimes escalating to screaming matches, when our friendship bloomed and strengthened to what it is now. Perhaps it is because we now already know everything about the each other’s beliefs, or maybe because we have debated some of life’s most difficult subjects, that our friendship can withstand next to any hardship. Our ideological differences have not served to distance us, but rather to show us that it is possible to form lasting bonds with people of different mindsets than our own, bonds strengthened by our strength of convictions.

When you are presented with the opportunity to discuss topics of actual interest with strangers and friends alike, you are given the freedom to push past awkward introductions and really get to know another individual, and as a famous quote states, “It’s nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know.” Regardless of the beliefs you hold dear, the simple act of sharing presents an innate trust and respect for the other person. When it comes to forming long-lasting, deep friendships, the first step is to cut the small talk.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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